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A homecoming for hurricane relief

Patrick Wilson, fresh from starring in the movie The Phantom of the Opera, is leading a concert to benefit Florida hurricane victims tonight in Clearwater. He and his high-profile Tampa Bay area family have been planning the concert for a while, but they debated expanding the scope of it a few days ago. Wilson spoke with with his father, John, the Channel 13 news anchor who also is performing, about whether to raise money for tsunami victims, too.

In the end, the Wilsons decided that charity begins at home and kept the focus on hurricane relief.

"The reality is there are still a lot of Floridians that don't have their homes," Patrick Wilson said. "I guess you have to pick and choose your charity. We'll certainly say something about tsunami relief."

Wilson, 31, will perform songs from Broadway musicals he has been in during his fast-rising career, including Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Full Monty and the Gershwin revue Fascinating Rhythm. He'll be joined in selections from Phantom by Sarah Uriarte Berry, another Broadway performer who was his co-star in the Carousel tour. Berry recently landed a leading role in the much-anticipated New York premiere of Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas' musical The Light in the Piazza.

Wilson's parents, John and Mary K., a popular local duo, will sing Love Changes Everything and other numbers. His brother Paul, a community actor-singer and public relations consultant, will do a Sinatra set. There will be patriotic and inspirational songs such as You'll Never Walk Alone. Patrick's other brother, Mark, also a Channel 13 news anchor, will emcee.

Proceeds go to the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund ( set up by Gov. Jeb Bush to assist communities in rebuilding from devastation caused by Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. The Wilsons and other performers, including the 55-piece Suncoast Pops Orchestra, conducted by Robert Romanski, and the Plant High School chorus, donated their fees. Music publishers donated scores. Ruth Eckerd Hall donated the venue and services.

John Wilson said he was hoping to raise $50,000. "I'll be surprised if the hall is not full or close to it," he said.

Patrick has been following the financial figures for Phantom, which opened three days before Christmas, with satisfaction. "We made $16-million in two weeks on 600 screens, which is great," he said. "We're in the Top 10, competing with movies that opened up on over 3,000 screens."

To be in a box office hit has been heartening. Wilson's first movie, The Alamo, in which he played Col. William Travis, bombed despite an all-star cast that included Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid. He was also in HBO's starry Angels in America, along with Al Pacino and Meryl Streep.

Phantom had relative unknowns in the leads, but its status as the world's most popular musical guaranteed a big audience for the movie. The reviews have been wildly varied, ranging from raves to revulsion.

"If there's anything negative that's said, I don't really care," Wilson said. "I just love the way it was shot. I really feel like Joel (Schumacher, the director) had the right take on it. There are moments that are real and organic and natural, and there are moments that are completely over the top. It's a shameless old-fashioned musical movie. If you don't like musical movies, then okay."

Wilson plays Raoul, the Phantom's rival for the chorus-girl-turned-diva, Christine (Emmy Rossum). One of the movie's highlights is All I Ask of You, a tender duet by Raoul and Christine on the snowy rooftop of the opera house.

"It was much more freeing," Wilson said of singing on film as opposed to onstage. "You're able to sing softly. You don't have to worry about playing to the back of the house."

Wilson's first big New York theater credit was the 1999 off-Broadway rock musical Bright Lights Big City, based on the Jay McInerney novel, in which he starred as a cocaine-sniffing magazine fact-checker. It flopped, and there was never a recording of the show. But this year Sh-K-Boom Records is releasing a studio version with Wilson and a strong cast.

"We did it like a rock concept album," he said. "I learned a lot from doing that show. It was very close to my heart."

Wilson, who lives in Brooklyn, has plans to return to Broadway, but it may not be in a musical. Next fall, he'll likely be in a revival of the Neil Simon comedy Barefoot in the Park, which ran on Broadway from 1963 to 1967 and then was a popular movie with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. He'll play the Redford role.

"Not that I don't want to do another musical on Broadway. I certainly do," Wilson said. "But I guess I just want to go back and do a play."

Now, though, he's looking forward to tonight's benefit. It's his first public performance in the bay area since the Carousel tour in 1997. It has been even longer since he did a concert with his whole family. "I can't remember the last time we all performed together," he said.

John Fleming can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or